December 16, 2008 / 1:23 AM / 11 years ago

U.N. official critical of Israel gets death threats

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Nicaraguan head of the U.N. General Assembly, who has been highly critical of Israel and the United States, has been the target of death threats posted on the Internet, his spokesman said on Monday.

“This matter is being looked into by the pertinent authorities,” Enrique Yeves, spokesman for General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto, told reporters.

D’Escoto, a Catholic priest, has repeatedly criticized both the United States and Israel since taking office in September. Recently he compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the former South African apartheid racial segregation policy.

Yeves said D’Escoto’s office found out about the death threats four days ago and notified U.N. security. He added that U.S. authorities had also been informed.

“They are very serious threats against his life and he is taking it pretty seriously,” he said. “Also the security staff at the U.N. is taking it very seriously.”

Without giving details, Yeves said D’Escoto was already taking “some extra security measures” for protection. It was not immediately clear who was behind the death threats.

He also rejected published comments from Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev, who was quoted by Israel’s Jerusalem Post newspaper last week as accusing D’Escoto of trying to block her participation in the 60th anniversary commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“This is a malicious and absolute lie that could best be characterized as slander and in any court of law this is a criminal act,” Yeves said.

Mirit Cohen, spokeswoman for Israel’s mission to the United Nations, described the statement as “outrageous” and said Shalev canceled a planned meeting with D’Escoto because of it.

“The role of the president of the General Assembly should be to unite the international community and promote shared interests and values,” Cohen said. “However, since his first days as president of the General Assembly, Mr. D’Escoto has been divisive and controversial, abusing his position.”

D’Escoto was foreign minister in Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government in the 1980s, when it was battling a U.S.-backed Contra insurgency. In a 2004 interview he called former U.S. President Ronald Reagan “the butcher of my people” and said President George W. Bush was Reagan’s spiritual heir.

Editing by Anthony Boadle

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